As an increasing number of people turn to the private rented sector in search of accommodation, landlords are finding themselves under ever more scrutiny. While bad landlord practices make it into the press more often than good, that does not mean to say that the majority of the industry is less than scrupulous, far from it in fact. Spokesman for the Tenancy Deposit Scheme Malcolm Harrison stressed that there are "a small number of bad eggs", both among landlords and tenants. He noted there are certain things property owners and renters can do to help ensure a tenancy runs smoothly.
Making sure there is a good inventory, that any deposit is properly protected and that the terms of the lease -and monthly rent - are clear are just some of the steps that should be taken, he advised. "It is not rocket science, but you do need to pay attention to detail so things don't just slip through," Mr Harrison added. His comments are echoed by advice provided by the National Landlords Association (NLA).
The organisation has outlined some examples of good practice that those renting out homes would do well to follow. In addition to the suggestions made by Mr Harrison, landlords should also ensure that an official assured shorthold tenancy agreement is drawn up and signed by all parties, as well as providing a gas safety record for the premises and its appliances. It can also be helpful to send tenants a copy of the property's energy performance certificate, as this may be of use when they are budgeting for their utility bills.
Another recommendation from the NLA is to keep in regular contact with tenants throughout the time they are renting a property, as this makes it much easier for them to get in touch when there is a problem. However, many landlords choose to use the services of a lettings agency, with owners advised to select a firm that is registered with a professional organisation. Mr Harrison highlighted the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Association of Residential Lettings Agents as two such bodies that oversee the industry. Meanwhile, the NLA runs its own accreditation scheme, with the organisation's chairman David Salusbury commenting that it "provides landlords with a clear way of demonstrating that they are professional by understanding their obligations, as well as the extensive legislation governing the letting of private residential property".
However, despite the best efforts of many landlords and national organisations that promote responsible rental practices, there are always some property owners who give the whole sector a bad name. In a bid to clamp down on unscrupulous landlords, Shelter has launched its own campaign - Evict Rogue Landlords. The charity hopes to draw attention to persistent offenders and wants to see more people prosecuted for the mistreatment of tenants.
Among the practices that Shelter is trying to stamp out are scams where renters are asked to pay more rent each month in place of a deposit, with the promise that this extra money will be returned provided there is no damage to the property at the end of the tenancy and landlords demanding extra money for things such as a tenancy inspection, which renters are not legally obliged to pay.
One of the most common worries for tenants is how their deposit is looked after - in the UK it is now a legal requirement that all such funds are placed in a registered scheme specifically for this purpose. Mr Harrison explained that one of the main advantages to using a tenancy deposit scheme is that, in the event of a dispute, an impartial person will be able to arbitrate between the two parties and come to an agreement.
Although bad landlords may engage in shady practices, tenants have a responsibility to be aware of their rights and to make sure that any individual or agency they rent a home from complies with the law. Shelter pointed out that if tenants are unaware of their rights and obligations, it makes it much easier for a dishonest landlord to take advantage of them. Understanding the ins and outs of the process of renting a property may prove to be increasingly important, with many experts predicting that the private rented sector in the UK will continue to grow over the coming years. Overall, it appears that the relationship between landlord and tenant is a strong one in the majority of cases. Figures published by the NLA in August revealed that 61 per cent of landlords described their interactions with their renters as "very good", with a further 34 per cent stating theirs are "good". At the other end of the scale, less than one per cent of those questioned said they had a "poor" relationship with tenants and just three per cent described it as "adequate".
- Monday 14 November 2011